Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

TAKE ME TO CHURCH: A New Film Explores the Search for Identity among the Grittiness and Beauty of New York's Homeless LGBT Youth

Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

TAKE ME TO CHURCH: A New Film Explores the Search for Identity among the Grittiness and Beauty of New York's Homeless LGBT Youth

Article excerpt

In an era when many films tend to cater to a box office formula, one story sticks out: Saturday Church, written and directed by Damon Cardasis. Critics are calling it "Moonlight meets La La Land" due to its poetic and emotional storytelling mixed with minor musical moments that run deep into the heartstrings.

The film's lead character, Ulysses (Luca Kain), is a shy and effeminate boy who, after the death of his father, finds himself struggling with his gender identity under the eyes of his striving mother, Amara (Margot Bingham), and abominable Aunt Rose (Regina Taylor)--the latter ends up kicking him out on the street after discovering he's been wearing his mom's clothes in secret.

With a mixture of emotional depth and fluid choreography layered throughout the film in its most poignant moments, Cardasis leads Ulysses to the West Village, where he meets other transgender youth who've found a family at "Saturday Church"--based on the Art and Acceptance program held Saturday nights at The Church of Saint Luke in the Field in Greenwich Village, New York City, which offers LGBT homeless youth temporary shelter, food, and companionship.

According to a 2012 study by the Williams Institute, LGBT youth represent 40 percent of the 1.6 million young people experiencing homelessness in the United States. Cardasis knew from the beginning that Ulysses's story was universal to many young teens across the country. For him, it was a responsibility to not only make the story real, but to make it true.

"People say, 'Congratulations!' which is obviously lovely to hear, [but] I never have those moments of being like, 'You're welcome,'" the first-time director explains. "For me, I feel like I gave birth to something. I don't have a child, but I imagine what it must feel like. I'm so happy for the child."

Cardasis wanted to find actors who knew about the issues affecting LGBT youth, which is why he messaged Jose Gutierez Xtravaganza, of the House of Xtravaganza, to find actors willing to portray these stories on screen. As fate would have it, Xtravaganza connected Cardasis to two girls who had never auditioned before: India Moore and Alexia Garcia. Both of them ended up landing lead roles, and are now starring in Ryan Murphy's new show Pose.

In the film, Kain's character becomes enriched with the compassion bestowed upon by people he meets at Saturday Church--including Joan, the program's organizer, played by nonbinary author and playwright Kate Bornstein in their first major acting role--that he ends up finding courage to stand as his authentic self, an experience Cardasis drew from his own life. …

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